David J.P. Fisher

The Misguided Approach to Networking that is Killing Your Career

By: David J.P. Fisher | September 6, 2017 | 

networkingAre you tired of the networking articles that tell you to connect with the rich and powerful to get value from your network?

Does it seem completely inauthentic and skeevy?

Do you use it as just another reason why you shouldn’t waste time building your network?

I call this the “American Idol” approach to networking.

It makes it seem like the only way you can be successful is if you can get the “Simon” in your field to like you.


The idea that networking is about meeting influential people and befriending them is not only incorrect; it’s harmful to careers.

It keeps people from starting and cultivating the real relationships that drive career growth and success.

How You Define Networking Defines Your Success

What is a network? Is it:

  1. A) The famous and powerful people you know who will do you favors advancing your career.


  1. B) A web of interconnected people around you who are focused on creating mutually beneficial relationships so that everyone can grow and prosper.

I’m going to suggest the answer is B, no matter the experts who seem to think your networking should be all about connecting with “important” contacts.

So many people (maybe even you) hate networking because they have this image foisted upon them by authors and speakers that say they “should fake it until they make it.”

They should pretend to be a mover and shaker so they can meet the influential people who are going to catapult their careers to the next level.

And then, because this feels dirty and inauthentic and is almost entirely ineffective, people stop putting any effort into building a vibrant network.

And then their career growth suffers.

I don’t want that to happen to you.

Influencers Aren’t Waiting to Make You Successful

Here’s what you have to realize: Influential people aren’t waiting around to make new friends they can propel to success.

They are usually doing the things that made them influential in the first place.

Their networks are already full, and so are their calendars.

So breaking into either of these is hard.

Especially when you might not have much to offer them in return.

But this is OK.

We have to understand there isn’t a magic gatekeeper who holds the key to our success.

We think all we need to be successful is access and exposure at the highest level.

The logical progression from this thought is we need to find influencers who already have that access and exposure and just glom on to them.

But that doesn’t work.

First, as we mentioned, these are hard connections to establish.

Those prominent in your field already have people clamoring for their attention.

This makes it hard to break through.

Secondly, though, that’s just not how you get successful.

We need to get out of this “American Idol” approach to life and business.

To think there is one person who holds the keys to your career success and all you need to do is make them like you is simplistic and incorrect.

We like it, though, because we’ve heard a story of someone who made friends with a powerful person and they were off to the races.

But we don’t know any of the other backstory (usually way more complicated), and it sounds a lot faster and easier than putting the work in, day-in and day out.

Even worse, there are well-known figures in many industries who market their influence.

They make it seem like they have the secret and they’re willing to be your friend.

All you need to do to be in their club is pay them. (This is the dark side of affiliate marketing.)

Planting Seeds

Instead of taking moonshots and only approaching the most powerful people you can find, how about connecting with a much broader group of people?

There’s nothing wrong with trying to “punch up a few weight classes.”

But if you just started a consulting firm, maybe trying to network with the CEOs of the Fortune 100 isn’t the place to start.

Find people who are on your level.

You’ll have more to offer them, and ironically, they have more to offer you than the bigwigs.

If you think this is a dead end, you don’t get the power of networking.

As you grow in your career, guess who else will?

That’s right, the person you just met.

In fact, while networking can help your career development, it can also help your networking partners grow in their careers.

And as the saying goes, “A rising tide raises all ships.”

Almost every VP and person in the C-suite in my network wasn’t there when I met them.

But during the past few decades, I have built relationships and trust naturally and organically.

Even though they have more authority and influence now, they are still ready to respond to me at any point.

That’s the power of relationships.

Opportunity is Everywhere

Does this mean it’s impossible to network with important people?

Of course not.

There are still valuable connections you can make with leaders in your field.

Many of them are approachable and want to help others succeed.

But don’t sit around thinking that having the one perfect connection will do all of the work for you.

That’s not how networking works.

If you want to find the opportunity in your network, you have to make the opportunity.

Connect with a broad group of people, look for ways to help them, and they’ll help you in return.

About David J.P. Fisher

David J.P. Fisher (D. Fish) is a speaker, business coach, and best-selling author. He combines nuanced strategy and real-world tactics to help professionals become more effective, efficient, and happy.

  • Dawn Buford

    The power of who you actually know, not who you think you should know, is what is going to work to your advantage. Network with co-workers, colleagues, and peers who can open doors for you. Nice post David and a good lesson for those who want to get ahead or just want to get more out of meeting new colleagues (without having to take a hot shower after every networking event!).

    • David J.P. Fisher

      Right on! Thanks for the kind words. I was at an event last night and someone shared that their approach was to look at networking as making new friends…and then let the business happen (or not) organically. It was much more enjoyable and no soul-cleansing hot showers were needed. 🙂

  • Amen! Have you read The Power of Who? Basically speaks to a lot of this. Networking is really about appreciating the value of community and at it’s best should focus on what you can do for others vs. what they do for you.

    • David J.P. Fisher

      I haven’t read it, but now I’ll put it on my list. I feel that the idea of helping others sounds cliche, but it’s true. I’m reminded of a rule that I learned while taking improv classes: “It’s the job of everyone on stage to make everyone else look good”. When you do that, everyone is watching out for everyone else and everyone looks good. Same thing with networking. It’s important to find a group of like-minded people who support each other. When you do, really good things happen.

      • Dwayne Alicie

        There’s another good one by Porter Gale — Your Network is Your Net Worth. It’s a good guide to being authentic while networking. You never know who you are sitting next to on an airplane, bumping into in the grocery store, etc. There are limitless opportunities to “network” if you are brave enough to let yourself be vulnerable, authentic and present for the interactions! Thanks for this post, David. Networking is best when it is human rather than transactional.

        • Oh that’s a very good book, Dawyne! Read it a while back.

          • David J.P. Fisher

            Your Network is your Net Worth is a good one. Three others I like are Never Eat Alone (Ferrazzi), Endless Referrals (Burg), and Networking in the 21st Century (Fisher). Sorry, I had to get a plug in there for myself. 😉

  • Such a great post, David!

    We talk a lot about being human. How about being nice with one another, paying attention to what we say, how we say it, and to whom? How about listening to understand rather than to reply?

    We are too much self-centered, too much focus on “what’s in it for me,” rather than caring for the person next to us. This has to change.

    • David J.P. Fisher

      Thanks, Corina! I’m with you – we get in our own way when we think about “networking”. Those who look to make a human connection before making a business connection always seem to get more from their network. Not because they are taking, but because they are giving. And while I do think it’s important to be intentional, it’s critical that we’re authentic.

    • Debbie Johnson

      Well said, Corina.

  • Molly Beck

    “But if you just started a consulting firm, maybe trying to network with the CEOs of the Fortune 100 isn’t the place to start. Find people who are on your level. You’ll have more to offer them, and ironically, they have more to offer you than the bigwigs.” YES!! Would it be cool if you wrote the CEO of J.Crew for advice about the fashion industry and they wrote you back? Yes! But the owner of your local boutique could probably give you similar advice about breaking into the fashion industry, AND also offer you to come in and shadow them for a day. Love this!

    • David J.P. Fisher

      Great example – and I think the local person is probably much more in touch with what’s going on in the trenches than a CEO of a large organization!